The Avengers Vault written by Peter David is a recently published book timed to capitalize on the upcoming release in early May of the second Avengers movie. After reading it I can say that I’m somewhat ambivalent about the product. In the past couple of years I’ve spent a fair amount of time reading books on comics history. My favorites so far have been several volumes of TwoMorrows American Comic Book Chronicles. Being a TwoMorrows publication I knew those books would be dense with text and presumed the books were written in a monotonous tone of slavish devotion and I was very happy to have quite the opposite reaction. Every page has at least one or two reproductions and the balance between text and image is good.
Peter David certainly has a reputation for knowing the source material in all of its rich, dense, complicated, and sometimes convoluted nerdiness. David’s comic scripting, take his previous run of X-Factor for example, can be layered, decompressed, while at the same time alleviating complicated events in a character’s history with a surprising twist. In Avengers Vault, David takes the 50 plus year history of the Avengers and the solo titles of its four most well known members and super compresses it into 178 pages. The text, while informative and at turns light, irreverent and occasionally a little snarky when addressing absurd or aggravating plot points, is much more of an overview. As such, the book seems most targeted to people coming from the movies or the very casual reader instead of more established fans. There may be no need to scare away potential new readers with the complexities of Scarlet Witch, Vision, and Wonder Manor or the why’s and wherefore’s that brought characters like Moondragon or Dr Druid onto the team. At the same time if the main demographics of this book are casual readers and the non comics reading movie audience they may be disappointed by relatively small amount of material devoted Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver and to Black Widow and Hawkeye respectively in the Avengers and Iron Man chapters. There’s no mention of either Hawkeye or Black Widow solo titles.
Serious readers who can cite stories and character development by issue number will be disappointed with this book by its lack of details and not being as up to date as possible. For example, why does the Avengers section essentially end without any mention of events of the last two or three years? The same seems to be true of the Thor section as well. The revelation and development of the new Thor isn’t mentioned. This may be true with the remaining chapters too. It’s a little difficult to assess since I’m not the dedicated reader of Marvel comics that I once was while also not being a newbie. I found the Hulk chapter to be the most informative, which considering David’s 12 year association as writer shouldn’t come as a surprise. The short closing chapter is devoted to spotlighting the various animated series. The appendix, billed as a complete Avengers roster, is a nice feature and broken down chronologically and by team, though again it may be complete as of a couple years ago. The emphasis on illustrations in the appendix is on big and bold, meaning there are 10 characters looming large in some kind of action pose and the layout strikes me more as filler. I’d rather have been treated to head shots of every character.
The part of the book that I find exciting, which should appeal to new and seasoned readers alike, are the five pockets filled with 11 different inserts that are associated with the team or the individual heroes. A mini poster by John Buscema features the team circa 1971. Another one reproduces the Walter Simonson’s Frog Thor poster. Two others feature Hulk art work by Jack Kirby and another artist whose style is familiar but I can’t make out the signature. There’s an Iron Man “mini comic” with art by Don Heck, an artist whose style I’ve rarely liked, yet is fun here. The Captain America Sentinels of Liberty membership card is a welcome addition. The final five inserts reproduce art in either color or black and white to stories or covers from Iron Man (Kirby art), Captain America (John Romita’s color sketch and B & W master illustration to Captain America #114), a next issue splash page from an early Avengers teasing the Sub Mariner, and finally another splash page from Avengers #309 featuring Thor. The mini posters and page/ cover reproductions would look really nice with a simple mat and frame hanging on a wall in your nerd den.
There are several things I like about the book design. The book has sewn binding on cloth tape which allows the book to lie and stay open when placed on a table or other flat surface. This type of binding also makes the book structurally stronger, especially compared to trades and other paperbacks that have perfect (re: glued) binding. There are numerous examples of beautifully reproduced art to be found throughout the book. The Captain America and Hulk endpapers duplicate comics pages in shades of blue and green respectively are fun. This same touch is carried over to the five pocket designs for holding the inserts and each insert has a colorful tab sporting logos. I don’t mind the use of thin, colorful vertical stripes to denote each chapter. The pages may seem somewhat thick, but the paper is a heavier weight that is close to or identical to the stock used for the insert pockets.
Likewise, there are some aspects I don’t like. The type is double spaced. This calls attention to itself when combined with the size and amount of artwork on each page. Unfortunately it also underscores the feeling that the textual content itself is light. The backside of the tab should have been glued to the inside of the back pocket instead of the outside of the back insert page where it obscures a little of the art. Doing it the other way may have presented its own challenges during printing though. Regardless, you’ll want to be extra careful not to tear or wear the tabs and pockets. The use of gradated tints instead of using simple white pages doesn’t make sense to me from a design standpoint.
Being somewhat of a lapsed Marvel fan who reads a few titles while trying to elude events, I found some useful information and really like the various extras here, and I wanted to like this book more than I do. I think it may be enjoyable to people new to Marvel, lapsed Marvel fans like myself, and a segment of Marvel fans who appreciate ephemera for ephemera’s sake.
Purchase Marvel: The Avengers Vault from Amazon.